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Indian meal soda bread recipe -- a taste of the last century

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Indian Meal Bread is becoming fashionable in Ireland again
Indian Meal Bread is becoming fashionable in Ireland again
Indian meal (aka Corn or Maize meal) was first imported to Ireland, from America, around the early 1800's to assist when the turnips and potatoes got scarce. Some people say that it was sent over here by charitable North American Indians to help the hungry Irish people during the Great Famine, hence the name "Indian Meal".

During these times large quantities of it were distributed to the hungry. It was also used to feed the chickens and added to turnips, which were cut by hand on the edge of a scythe, for pigs. Difficulties in grinding the corn produced poorly refined meal which caused digestive problems to those who had no choice but to eat it. Once it was discovered that the grain needed to be ground more finely for human consumption, Indian meal bread became popular in the country areas of Ireland.

It is exactly the same grain as the ground meal used for "Grits" and "Cornbread" in the United States and a finer-ground version of is used as Polenta in Europe. In Ireland, it was made into porridge, pancakes and bread for country households and was still in common use up until the 1970's.
Indian Meal is also known as Maize meal or Corn meal

This recipe is for a simple and light Indian Meal Bread that my grandmother used to make and my own mother made and baked it in a pan with a tight-fitting lid, on the open fire in the kitchen. I still make it quite often, but in my modern oven not on the fire.

Turf "mole" (broken peat pieces) was put on the fire to keep it going gently during night and the bread would cook slow, so we had fresh bread ready in the morning. Gosh! That sounds like something that happened in the 1940’s, but I'm talking about the 1970’s. I guess, this is what traditions are all about!

My Ingredients:
600g plain flour (5 Cups)
1 level teaspoon baking powder
100g Indian meal (1/2Cup)
1 level teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
150g butter (1+1/2 sticks)
2 large eggs
240ml milk (8 fl oz)
dash lemon juice
120ml water (8 fl oz) approx.

My Method:
1. Mix the flour and baking powder together and rub in the butter.
2. Add the Indian meal, sugar and salt and mix well. Break in the 2 eggs, dash of lemon juice, milk and half the water. Mix together quickly and lightly. Add a little more water if you need to.
3. Pull the dough together in the bowl with a sprinkling of flour and when it is smooth, turn it over. There is not necessary to knead this bread because the baking powder is the raising agent. Just make it smooth on the top.
4. Place the bread on a baking tin and gently flatten it down with the palm of your hand. I always use a pizza tin for baking my bread because it works perfectly regardless of the size of the scone! Cut a cross over the top and into the bread. Gently push the knife to both sides as you cut to widen the gap.

Cutting a cross on the bread lets the heat into the centre and makes it easier to portion
Cutting the cross in the top of the bread had nothing really to do with the look of it! This was done to let the heat get into the centre of the bread and to facilitate breaking the bread into pieces, that were decent enough in size, to take out to the fields or the bog or wherever the men of the house were working that day. Here on the west coast of Ireland, one of the traditions was to mark the bread into eight pieces, not four. This was true portion control being exercised by the Mammy of the house!

5. Put the bread into the centre of a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes. Five minutes before cooking-time is up, take out the bread place a plate or baking tin on top and turn it over. Put it back on the tray and into the oven to finish cooking. This helps to dry out the bottom of the loaf. The scone should sound hollow to the tap on the base when it cooked.

See www.IrishFoodGuide.ie for more from Zack.

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